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The U.S. fertility rate has taken a nose dive and why is a complete mystery
The effect of this trend will be with us for decades to come, experts say.
Governments in Western Europe, Russia, and East Asia have long worried about their dropping birth rates. They’re concerned about replacement, the idea that they need a certain number of young people working to support seniors reliant on government’s social systems. Recently, the U.S. has joined them. Economists also fear a lack of young, strong, talented workers to replace those entering retirement might even slow down economic growth.
The latest figures show a record low birth rate last year, for the second straight year in a row. The trouble is, researchers aren’t sure why. In 2017, there were a mere 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages 15-44). That means the overall fertility rate dropped 2% from 2016. This is the lowest level since 1978. These figures come from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Demographers there collected birth data from all across the country, along with the year’s birth certificates. This is the largest single drop since 2010, during the worst period of the Great Recession. There was a tiny increase in 2014, but that year stands out as an anomaly. Overall, there’s been a downward trend for decades, meaning the number of births aren’t enough to replace the declining population.
The US birthrate has been dropping steadily for decades. But last year’s figures show the steepest decline yet. (Image credit: Getty Images.)
Demographers aren’t surprised. Most developed countries are seeing the same thing. However, they’re stymied as to what’s driving the downturn in America. Usually, hard economic times cause a drop in the birth rate while an improved economy sees a rise. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), or how many births a woman bears in her lifetime, should be at an optimal rate of 2.1. Today, it’s 1.76 per woman. What’s more shocking is that the rate has declined, even though there are more women of childbearing age around today than in decades past.
If you look at TFR over the course of the last century, you can get a good sense of how it’s changed over time. In the early years of the 20th century, TFR was around 3 per woman. Keep in mind too that childhood diseases also took out lots of kids before they reached maturity. In the 1940s with prosperity and penicillin, that number leveled off to about 2.1.
The post-war period of course saw a baby boom, where the TFR peaked at 3.7. Afterward, it declined over decades to a stable 2.1 in the 1970s. Of course, greater prosperity often equates to a lower TFR. But too low a total fertility rate, and a country finds itself in trouble.
Besides replacement, are there other reasons this decline is noteworthy? Co-author of the report Brady E. Hamilton told Buzzfeed, "This information allows you to better understand what your population will look like in 10 or 20 years so you can forecast what the workforce would look like, demand for educational facilities, and resources." For instance, this drop in TFR is thought to impact social security and Medicare for the next few decades.
One reason may be, women in developed countries are focusing more on their career and putting off having a family. But demographers say this isn’t the full story. (Image credit: Getty Images.)
There are some indications of what might be causing this trend. For instance, women today are postponing marriage and having a family for longer stints in higher education and to build up their career. Women are more likely to have children past the age of 35 nowadays than in times past. Long-term contraception might also be a factor.
Are stagnant wages playing a role? Inflation keeps rising, while for years wages have hardly inched up. Consider how much it costs to raise a child, over $200,000 in the U.S. just to the age of 18. That's quite a bit, especially for millennials and Gen-Xers, the majority of which are still living paycheck to paycheck.
There was one bright spot: teen births declined 7%. Also, the U.S. still has a higher birthrate than other developed countries. Even so, these numbers make it official, the US is an aging society, which is particularly impactful due to the large size of the aging baby boomer generation. The fact that people live longer nowadays than ever before doesn’t help matters, either. Demographers say this decline will likely continue. As a result, the U.S. won’t be in fiscal health without a steady stream of immigrant workers to replace workers lost to the dropping fertility rate.
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Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Howard et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56316-y#Fig3" target="_blank">paper</a> published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."</p>
Connecting modern people with history<p>It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hear-recreated-voice-otzi-iceman-180960570/" target="_blank">reconstruct the voice of Ötzi,</a> an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told <em><a href="https://www.livescience.com/amp/ancient-egypt-mummy-voice-reconstructed.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>.</em></p><p>As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told <em><a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/ancient-voice-scientists-recreate-sound-egyptian-mummy-68482015" target="_blank">The Associated Press</a>, </em>that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."</p><p>John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told <em>The Associated Press.</em> "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."</p>
Inequality in wealth, gender, and race grew to unprecedented levels across the world, according to OxFam report.
- A new report by global poverty nonprofit OxFam finds inequality has increased in every country in the world.
- The alarming trend is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which strained most systems and governments.
- The gap in wealth, race and gender treatment will increase until governments step in with changes.
People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in Brooklyn.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Credit: Oxfam International
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM